|Deepavali in White House|
|Why not a Dalit priest?|
|By Kancha Ilaiah|
Let not the NRIs work for creating religious frictions by presenting one
|The Non-Resident Indians of North America have
been trying to convince the White House that they should recognise the
Deepavali festival as American national festival by celebrating it in White
House. They made such efforts during the Bill Clinton period but failed. Then
they tried very hard during the George W Bush term and again failed.
However, they succeeded during this time in convincing the Obama
Assuming that the NRIs were not willing to present a homogeneous Hinduism by
The NRIs living in America used Obama’s black background to convince him to
We were all a witness to Obama’s oath taking ceremony where the black pastors
Since Hinduism does not even give such a scope to Dalits and other backward
For a long time the American blacks faced a similar denial of spiritual
Whether it were the first major black leader, Frederick Doglas of Abraham Lincoln’s
When the Indian casteist forces celebrated the Deepavali in the White House,
Some of these NRIs were raising objections as to why the Congress House
Back in India Sri Sri Ravishankar, Ramachandra Guha and others accused us
Do not these intellectuals, so called seers and NRIs understand that
The only festival that can represent all Indians is Independence Day (August
This is the reason why the Obama administration should have asked for the
Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit intellectual, activist and a bit of a maverick, has for several years been trying to promote fluency in English as the key to the liberation of the people at the bottom of India’s caste system from what he sees as the caste prejudice inherent in Indian languages like Hindi.
He usually hosts a party on Oct. 25, the birthday of Lord Babington Macaulay, the man who got the Raj authorities to adopt English as the language of higher education in India (he also drafted the 1860 penal code that India still uses today). Many Indians criticize Lord Macaulay for creating, in his words, “a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect,” to act as native interpreters between the British and India’s multitudes.
He was fairly successful and even today many of India’s upper classes think and write in English. For decades some Indian intellectuals have wondered (often in English) how to gain the standing for other Indian languages that English – and those educated in English – have.
Mr. Prasad has no time for such concerns. Today he is presiding over the laying of a foundation stone for a temple dedicated to “Goddess English” in a village in Uttar Pradesh state, about 350 kilometers east of New Delhi. He hopes the temple will be completed by Lord Macaulay’s birthday.
“In cities, people are somewhat aware of the importance of English,” said Mr. Prasad ahead of the trip. “In villages, not much. So I wanted to trigger this sort of recognition.”
The 2009 Annual State of Education in India report found that about 51% of schoolchildren in rural India can both read and understand simple sentences in English by the time they get to Class Eight, usually at age 13 or 14, after which many children leave school.
So why a temple and not an English teaching center, scores of which can be seen in cities and towns all over India?
“I cannot reach large masses of people. I do not have the infrastructure to provide English instruction to scores of people,” said Mr. Prasad. “If you say English is a goddess, worship it, then the message is much better.”
Among the design conceits on the drawing board: the front pillars of the temple could be mounted on concrete shaped like computers, the steps are to resemble a computer keyboard, and a “fountain pen-shaped elevated object” is planned on the roof. There will also be a statue of an anonymous gentleman “in a coat, wearing a hat and who sports specs or sunglasses,” said Mr. Prasad.
“These are all symbols of modernity and I want to inject that into the very childhood of Dalit kids,” he said.
If anything Mr. Prasad, who has a flair for being polemical, seems to think Lord Macaulay didn’t take his Anglicization project far enough. Mr. Prasad says his own aversion to Indian languages extends to “native dress” as well as language although he hasn’t extended that injunction to people visiting his Macaulay parties. He points out that along with many other caste-based restrictions, Dalit men were not allowed to wear the full-length version of the dhoti, a wrap worn over the lower part of the body.
“English attire is caste-neutral,” said Mr. Prasad. “In India, the dress of the people differs from caste to caste. But the architecture of the trouser is same for everybody.”
By Tripti Lahiri
Dalits look upon English as the language of emancipation
Dalit activists argue that English not just opens up job opportunities, but also helps ease the caste and power constraints that come with speaking regional languages
New Delhi: I dream of an English full of the words of my language.an English in small letters and English that shall tire a white man’s tongue an English where small children practice with smooth round pebbles in their mouth to spell the right zha.
When Meena Kandasamy wrote these lines, almost like a petition, pleading that her roots be allowed to flourish in English, she was just 18 and fresh from the unusual loss of her poetic name: Ilavenil.
Aspiring for change: Tamil poet Meena Kandasamy is one of a growing band of Dalit intellectuals who look at English as a key to progress.
The Tamil name meant “spring” but often became the subject of ridicule for the young Dalit poet when many said it sounded like the name of a train. “I winced in horror and wept on my pillows. Within my own state, this name was a clear giveaway of my Tamil origins: it was devoid of Hindu/Brahminic/Sanskrit roots. I wanted a name people could accept,” she recalls.She later adopted her nickname Meena to escape the predicament, and in response to any question posed to her in Tamil, she spoke in English. “I want this new tongue to accept me. I expect it to appreciate my sensibilities, admire my culture and, above all, be accommodating,” she says.
Kandasamy is one of a growing band of Dalit intellectuals who are rooting for English, arguing what was once a language of imperial power is now a language of emancipation.
Though a borrowed language, she says, English earned her recognition. Poems in Kandasamy’s first book Touch, written in English and published in 2006, have been translated into five languages. “It doesn’t operate with the Dalits alone. English takes your voice to a larger level and helps in your search for solidarity…(with) like-minded people, people who want change.”
Kandasamy’s engagement is part of an emerging struggle in the journey of English in India: the Dalit aspiration for progress and a growing demand for schools teaching the language.
In Coimbatore, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, a massive English training project is under way. A seven-month-old programme designed by the British Council under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a flagship programme to put every child in school, is training teachers in government-funded schools to teach communicative English better. The real beneficiaries, says Alison Barrett, head of the council’s Project English for State Partnerships, are children from marginalized sections who attend such schools.
Also Read Previous parts of the series
“English is a way of accessing socio-economic advancement. English, in this country, means a language of power, and if you don’t give them English, they cannot access power structures and effect changes in socio-economic policies,” says Barrett.
To listen linguist and author of ‘Indian English’, Pingali Sailaja, talk about Indian English, its characteristics and structure
In Tamil Nadu, where a strong Dravidian movement in the early decades of the 20th century thwarted the Union government’s plans to impose Hindi as the country’s official language, the English Project has brought within its fold 125,000 primary school teachers and five million children in a short span of seven months.
Thiru. S. Kannappan, SSA’s joint director in Tamil Nadu, who is involved in planning, implementation and monitoring, says the project came at just the right time, when learning levels in the language in state-run schools were ebbing—only around 22% children in the schools in Tamil Nadu can read easy sentences, a recent report by education activist group Pratham says.
Dalit activists argue that English not just opens up job opportunities, but also helps ease the caste and power constraints that come with speaking regional languages.
Far away from Tamil Nadu, in Uttar Pradesh, Dalit thinker and author Chandrabhan now calls for the worship of the English goddess—a symbol of Dalit emancipation.
“Not only is the English language spoken everywhere in the world, respected by the people of all the nations and easily learnt, but the people of the English nation are also impartial and unbiased—and to whichever nation they go, they do not indulge in the base acts of casteism or communalism,” says Prasad, who declared 25 October as English Day in a ceremony in New Delhi last year, coinciding with the birthday of T.B. Macaulay, the British administrator who introduced English education in the country.
“English can fill the gap,” says Alka Gupta, founder of the British Academy for English Language in New Delhi. “It is like Bisleri water—you may go for anything to eat but you do need water. Whatever be your personal qualification, you can’t go far without English.”
This is the concluding part of the series
By Pallavi Singh